Fragrant Story Review: Floral Fantasy

Fragrant Story was created by William Kage and his development team Squire Games. Previously, Kage worked on a variety of fanmade tracks for existing SNES games, even going so far as to create a library of Soundfonts for other artists to use for the creation of ‘authentic’-sounding retro music. Kage has completed a Final Fantasy VI ROM hack, and is currently working on several not-for-profit game projects inspired by SNES titles. His main work-in-progress is an EarthBound/MOTHER-inspired game cheekily titled Otosan. Kage planned for Otosan to see a 3DS release, but due to Nintendo discontinuing the 3DS in 2020 with plans to close the console’s eshop in 2023, Kage scrambled to create a smaller-scale game to submit to Nintendo for last-minute approval. Kage opted to expand on a mini-game from Otosan, and Fragrant Story was released as a stand-alone.

Contextualized as a VR arcade game played by the kids in Otosan, Fragrant Story weaves a simplistic tale of battle within the kingdom of Flowergard. The kids take on the role of Fleuristas, warriors with different skills and powers, to protect the kingdom’s leader, Queen Mango. Led by the smooth-talking Colonel Rhubarb, the Fleuristas must fight their way to Wolfsbane, a vicious wolf man who guards the game’s final area, Bramble Hollow.

He may not be a sky pirate, but Rhubarb is delightful all the same.
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Trying to Catch ‘Em All : Adventures in Monster Catching Games

After my recent playthrough of Monster Crown, I got to thinking more about the wider monster catching subgenre of games. Specifically, what makes some of these games jive with me and others fall flat. Over the past few years, I’ve played a variety of different monster catching games, most pretty solid, a few not so much. While these games were often mechanically different, I was able to consider the defining elements of the games and what made them work, with others struggling , and what I generally like to see in these games.

I’m a pretty shameless Yo-kai Watch stan, even though the games’ glory days are seemingly over, and it’s unlikely future games beyond 3 will get localized. Yo-kai Watch works pretty well on its own, rather than being treated as a Pokemon-killer/rival, which seems to be how it was unfortunately marketed in the West to the series’ deterrence. In general, Yo-kai Watch seems to hit a few more notes from modern JRPG’s, which gives additional depth to the games. For example, parts of the game feel more open-world and there’s a genuine sense of urban exploration. While the battle system in the games is somewhat polarizing, it feels novel to have a monster battling system that is automatic, with the player being tasked to activate skills and use items instead of dishing out direct commands.Yo-kai Watch should also be seriously commended for its localization efforts. While many people might find it egregious for a modern game dealing with Japanese yokai to be localized into an American setting, somehow the localization makes it work. There’s plenty of really great puns (Predictabull is one of my favorites) and there’s a genuinely funny sense of humor throughout the games that works better than one would expect. I even surprisingly enjoyed the anime, which carries over the game’s humor and makes for a decent comedy show. In general, there’s many things that Yo-kai Watch does right.  

Not pictured: hours of frustration watching the AI use ineffective moves on bosses.

Monster Crown Review: The Unfortunate Paper Birthday Crown

Monster Crown was developed by Studio Aurum, an independent development team composed of lead developer Jason Walsh and designer/writer Shad Schwarck, along with their music team. According to the game’s Kickstarter, Monster Crown was a project developed in their free time in early 2016, before being Kickstarted in 2018, and finally released in 2020. 

In a world where monsters and humans coexist, Monster Crown places the player in the shoes of a bright 14-year-old, living in the countryside with their parents. After helping their Dad with some errands, and showing promise as a budding monster tamer in the process, the player receives a starter monster from a magazine personality quiz. New friend in tow, the player sets out to befriend more monsters and travel across the continent.

Go godless abomination, I choose you!
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Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ Review: Thicker Than Water

Content warning: as per usual with Nitroplus CHIRAL’s works, Togainu no Chi is a game that explores various dark themes, including sexual assault, sexual slavery, nonconsensual body modification, and drug use. While not as dark as parts of DRAMAtical Murder or roughly 70% of the content in Sweet Pool, please use your best judgement before proceeding.

Way back in ~2006 as a last bastion middle-school Xanga user, I stumbled upon someone who made a custom blog layout with the background being a sad-looking anime guy clutching bloody dog tags. Within the same year, I was perusing Photobucket for pictures and ended up stumbling upon CGs from a game I would later learn was called Togainu no Chi. At the time, I was drawn to the character designs (and very ignorant of the saucier content), so the game’s existence has been present in the corners of my mind for a while. Now, thanks to JAST Blue finally putting an official release out, I can finally tackle this oddity.

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ (“Blood of the Reprimanded Dog”) was originally released back in 2005 as Nitroplus CHIRAL’s debut boy’s love (BL) title. Like many other Nitroplus CHIRAL titles, the game also received various console ports that probably cleaned up some of the game’s more explicit content. Despite the game’s age and reputation as a debut title, TnC seems to be rated pretty highly amongst other BL games and even other Nitroplus CHIRAL games.

Gee Rin, how come your mom lets you have TWO boyfriends?
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Rakuen Review: Calling Home

FYI, due to some screencapping issues with the game, I’m using the images from the game’s Steam page.

Rakuen is an RPG Maker adventure game created by Laura Shigihara. Shigihara is a singer, songwriter, and soundtrack composer who has contributed music to various games, including Melolune, Plants vs Zombies, To The Moon, and Deltarune. Rakuen is the first game created and developed by Shigihara and was released in 2017.

Rakuen follows the story of a child only known as the “boy”. Stuck in a hospital for certain reasons (and wearing a cool paper samurai helmet), his greatest joy comes from his mother’s regular visits, when she reads him his favorite book, Rakuen. The tale of Rakuen described a mystical fantasy forest under the charge of guardian Morizora, who can grant wishes. One day, the book goes missing, and after slipping away to the guarded-off and worn segments of the hospital, the boy confronts a mysterious old man named Uma, who has been stealing various items from the hospital. Uma reveals that Morizora’s forest is real and demonstrates that a magical door between worlds can allow the boy to travel there. The boy and his mother make their way through Morizora’s cave, where they find the guardian of the forest is sleeping and can only be awaken by activating runes tied to various individuals – the forest dwellers who are alternate versions of various hospital denizens. To awaken runes, the boy must learn about the problems these individuals experienced, help guide them along, and obtain their songs.

You’re only in this cave at the beginning of the game, but it sets a strong tone for the rest of the game.
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How Arknights Got Me to Sorta Like Gacha Games (?)

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Not many logistics group hire a pocky-eating wolf girl and a pie-obsessed angel.

On and off over the years, I’ve made occasional attempts to get into a variety of gacha games, but nothing’s really stuck. Typically, I get easily frustrated with these types of games, as their difficulty plateaus and meta-imbalances, designed to leech money out of players, tends to be inscrutable for me. I also follow a lot of the criticisms marked at these games, of the smarmy “who would pay hundreds of dollars for a JPEG image of a waifu that can be taken away from you if the game shuts down?” variety. Around mid-2020, I decided to make another attempt at gacha games, starting with Tales of Crestoria and Sinoalice. I was remarkably disappointed by Sinoalice, after being personally excited for the game’s release for over a year as a massive Yoko Taro fan. The game has a great soundtrack and art direction but it’s also an absolute snooze fest to play. I’ve still been following Tales of Crestoria since launch and will openly admit I dislike playing the game. I never got the chance to play Tales of the Rays before Bamco shuttered the English release, so I’m stuck with a super boring turn-based Tales of title. I dislike the gameplay to the point of always letting the game’s barely optimal auto-battle work for me. I mostly stick with the game because of the surprisingly good story and game-original cast, particularly the murderous love interest Misella and self-aware edgelord hedonist Vicious. I also started playing Princess Connect Re: Dive (which I…like? I don’t have a strong opinion on it), and I’m eagerly awaiting the English release for Touken Ranbu.

Amidst this mess of gacha game attempts and questionable usage of free time, I also got into Arknights around the end of 2020. I didn’t really start “seriously” playing the game until January of this year, but the game managed to subsume the better part of my free time, for good reason.

Whoever designed the UI deserves a raise, honestly.

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Beyond Fight, Magic, Run: Spotlighting Unique RPGMaker Creators

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Sad times in a proof-of-concept.

In the past decade, there’s been an increase in RPGMaker games focused on story and character interaction, often sidelining the RPG aspects or removing them entirely. One of the best examples of this is Freebird Games’s To The Moon, a sci-fi drama about altering the memory of a dying man. To The Moon is focused on its characters, story, and futuristic setting. However, its gameplay is simplistic, involving navigating the protagonist scientist characters through memory landscapes and solving simple puzzles. The rise of itch.io also helped encourage the rise of non-standard RPGMaker games, since the site allows for easier hosting of indie titles without having to traverse the Steam approval process. Plus, fan translations of Japanese RPGMaker games are surprisingly plentiful, thanks to contributors like vgperson, who also worked on many official paid Steam releases.

Using RPGMaker for narrative-driven adventure games rather than sword-and-sorcery RPGs is nothing new. Indie Japanese horror games made using RPGMaker are practically a genre on their own, popularized by fan translators and Let’s Plays. Fun fact: while Yume Nikki is probably best known for popularizing Japanese RPGMaker horror games amongst an English-speaking audience, many aspects of its stylistic blend of surrealistic horror can be traced back to the 1998 game Palette, which later received a PS1 re-release.

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A Pata-preciation Post

When putting together a list of my favorite video games of all time, one of the titles that consistently breaks my top 5 and has yet to leave is Patapon 2. Standing alongside games like the original Bioshock, Nier Gestalt, and Earthbound is a PSP game about using war drums to command a singing army of eyeball creatures. My particular enjoyment with the Patapon games (specifically 1 & 2) is something I’ve hawked for years but have yet to actually articulate, so why not finally do so?

The original Patapon was released in 2007, during a time when PSP developers realized that yes, you can develop games specific to the console that aren’t janky action games (ports like Tomb Raider, Star Wars Battlefront or otherwise) that function better with two analogue sticks. A direct sequel was released two years later, and the final game in the trilogy came out in 2011. The games were iconic enough to warrant a bizarrely specific stage appearance in Playstation All-Stars, wherein the patapon beat the tar out of God of War’s version of Hades. 2017 brought an HD remaster of Patapon 1, with a remaster of 2 following a year after. Oh, and apparently the games were popular enough to warrant a Chinese knock-off iOS/Android game called Patapon-Siege of Wow!.

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Art from Rolito’s website.

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Muse Dash review: Start Dash!

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Muse Dash was originally released in 2018 by Peropero Games, an independent game development group from Guangzhou, China. According to an in-game loading screen tip, the game has seven devs. The game is available for mobile phones, the Nintendo Switch, and the PC through Steam.

Muse Dash is a rhythm game that borrows a few cues from action and platforming titles. One of the game’s playable girls – punkish Rin, mischievous Buro, and elegant Marija – runs through a stage while punting enemies and dodging obstacles that fly down the two on-screen lanes. The objective is simple: punt enemies, collect notes and hearts and try not to die from spikes, all to the beat of a song. If this sounds an awful lot like Game Freak’s 2013 3DS game Harmoknight, well, it is, but with more electronic music, faster gameplay and the ability to play as an anime girl in a maid outfit.

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Somehow I didn’t break my combo while taking this screencap.

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Stop Children, What’s That Sound (Novel)?

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An ode to the sound novel. The once-popular medium for Japanese adventure games has sadly fallen into obscurity after being mostly replaced by the contemporary visual novel, with its character sprites and dating sims. While sound novels never really took off among English-speakers (07th Expansion’s works aside), there are a few significant sound novels that have ties to otherwise fairly popular/well-known works.

So, first off, what the heck are sound novels? Early in the 90’s, game developer Chunsoft (well before merging with company Spike and being here fore known as Spike Chunsoft since 2012) pioneered sound novels with their title Otogiriso. Sound novels are technically a precursor to visual novels and are characterized by the usage of text fully overlaying still backgrounds with emphasis on sound design through music and effects. Sound novels also employ the typical visual novel gameplay by means of multiple choices with branching story routes and multiple endings. Many sound novels were mystery or horror-flavored, though according to this Giant Bomb list, there was also a period of anime-spinoff sound novels landing on the Nintendo DS. Nowadays, sound novels are a rarity and visual novels have largely overtaken them as a medium.

With that intro out of the way, let’s get to the focus of this article: weird sound novel spin-offs (and one that isn’t a spin-off but led to one more well known than the parent game). The games I’ll be covering include Radical Dreamers, Play Novel: Silent Hill, and 428: Shibuya Scramble.

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